The Detroit Tigers shortstop may not be their shortstop for much longer
The Detroit Tigers really needed a shortstop last offseason, so they signed Javier Baez to a six-year, $140 million contract. Here we are in the home stretch of the 2022 season, and they still really need a shortstop.
Okay, maybe that’s an overreaction. Baez is still a slick fielder. He has a ton of range and makes all the difficult plays. The problem is that he botches the plays that should be more routine.
This piece will be less about his struggles at the plate and more about his struggles in the field. We’ve already discussed his lackluster season with the bat at length.
The problem with Baez as a fielder is his erratic throwing arm. The signs were there as early as 2019, when he committed 15 errors in total, but 12 of them were throwing errors. Now each of the last two years, including this year, he has committed 20 errors apiece, with 13 of them being throwing errors. His 20 errors this season currently leads the American League.
The problem became exacerbated after Spencer Torkelson was sent down to Triple-A Toledo at the All-Star break. Nine of his 20 errors have come during the second half of the season while Torkelson has been in Toledo, which accounts for nearly half his errors. This includes three games where he had more than one error. We really took for granted how good of a picker Tork was at first base.
Despite the errors, he still has an outs above average of 4, which ranks in the 87th percentile according to Baseball Savant. OAA is a ranged-based stat, so this proves that Baez still has the range to stick at shortstop, but his throwing arm remains a huge issue.
This is why a move to second base, where he doesn’t have to throw the ball as far, makes sense for Baez in the not-so-distant future. This, of course, would come at the expense of Jonathan Schoop’s stellar defense at the position. Because of that, the Tigers could wait until 2024 to make that move, though it’s very possible that Schoop ends up being a utilityman next season.
We’ve seen other shortstops move away from the position due to erratic throwing arms before. The most notable example is Fernando Tatis Jr., who moved to the outfield. He had 21 errors in 102 games at shortstop last season. In 24 games in the outfield, he had just two. It was a small sample size, but it appeared to be working for him. Baez isn’t quite the athlete that Tatis is (in fact, most people aren’t), but it just goes to show that it’s not out of the ordinary for a shortstop to make a position change.
Per Fangraphs, He’s played 320 games at second base in his career (231 starts). Over that sample, he’s committed 26 errors, 12 of which were throwing errors. For comparison’s sake, 57 of his 89 career errors at shortstop have been throwing errors. It’s a much smaller sample size at second base, but it would be worth a try at this point in his career.
So what would the Detroit Tigers do if they moved Baez to second base? Well, they just might have to open the wallet back up and sign another shortstop, because unless they think Ryan Kreidler can be an everyday MLB shortstop (most experts think he can’t), they won’t have anybody who can fill the position internally until Cristian Santana is ready, and that might not be until 2025.
The Tigers are stuck with Baez until 2028, barring an unforeseen MVP-caliber season from him in 2023 where he decides to opt-out. They might as well put him in the best possible position to succeed.